Although we haven't used statistically viable methods, we're pretty sure the East Village has the greatest proportion of French restaurants decorated in flea market finds. There's Flea Market, along with the Anyway Cafe and Lucien. We recently tried 26 Seats to see how it measured up. Decor-wise, it fit right in, with oil paintings in oranges and browns of street scenes, a heart made from hundreds of beads, mirrors that could use a polish or two. Yet, the food here was even more elevated and classic than at some of its neighbors.
Beneath a black-and-white poster of a young boy kissing a young girl that wouldn't be out of a place in a freshman girl's dorm, we started with the soupe de poisson ($9), a thin brown broth brimming with fish flavor but no fish bits. As a side, rouille, mayo-like and heavy on the chili flakes, set next to croutons and shaved Swiss cheese. Our server ladled the soup into our bowl, rapidly dipping and pouring the broth, a traditional touch that belied her skinny jeans.
As our second appetizer, we tried the pissaladière ($10), an onion tart and small salad. The tart flaked, as tarts are wont to do, and the sweet caramelized onion oozed out. Outside, it started to rain, causing the candles to flicker slightly when someone opened the door. Inside, a young woman breathed "oh, la vie" on the stereo.
We also ordered the saucisson lyonnais ($11), disks of sausage atop disks of tomato atop disks of potato, everything warm and filling. Each bite landed somewhere on the spectrum of soft to gently firm, with the meat providing salt and the veggies acid. We love a dish that seasons itself.
The onglet aux échalottes ($21) meant business, a heavy chunk of meat—thicker than most onglets we've had—drizzled in shallot sauce, redolent of rosemary and red wine. Nearby crisp haricot verts huddled, garlic a-sparkle, and gratin dauphinois, a thousand layers of carbs and cheese, hulked. French women don't get fat because they don't eat like this every day.
Ten dollars cheaper, and this place would be a steal. But with just 26 seats in the whole place, prices have to pay the rent. So, save this restaurant for a wet night, when the streetlights glitter in your sweetie's eyes, when splurging on dinner is still cheaper than a trip to Paris. 26 Seats is best for: un rancard amoureux.
About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.